Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Willie Randolph: King of NY

His team is a half game out of the Wild Card chase, and is holding steady in what has proven to be the best division in baseball. After blatantly throwing in the towel on Art Howe during the second half of last season, Willie Randolph’s 2005 Mets are not going down without a fight. In fact, they went to Arizona last week and swept the Diamondbacks. All things considered, it’s been an up and down season for Willie, but he’s been kind enough to sit down with me to discuss the questions that are on everyone’s mind, like “Do you think Brad and Angelina are for real, or what?” Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to ask him that one. Nevertheless, what follows is my exclusive, candid, and soon-to-be Pulitzer Prize-winning interview with the Mets’ manager. Also, this is completely fake, but other than that, it’s totally true.

Me: Hey Willie! First let me say – I’ve always been a big fan of yours. When I was in grade school, I had a folder that was actually a huge version of your 1988 Topps baseball card. I mean – it was just like a baseball card, except that it opened up, and I kept my spelling homework in it. Every time I opened my book bag, I saw your face, and it made me happy. I wonder what I did with that thing.

Willie Randolph: Ummm, wow. That’s great. I didn’t even know they made those things. Ha ha!

Me: Yeah…they did. Willie, let me start by asking the obvious question: What time is it? I left my watch at the house, and I have to get home in time for the Yankee game. No offense.

Willie: What? It’s 11 o’clock in the morning. There are no games for another eight hours.

Me: Okay, cool. Anyway, what has been the biggest transition for you going from the Yankees to the Mets, except for all of the championships, good players, class, tradition…ya’ know – things like that?

Willie: Well, the biggest transition has been the fact that this is MY team. I learned so much under Joe Torre for all those years, and I had a good playing career in the Bronx, but to have this opportunity to actually manage a baseball team has just been great. As far as the city of New York is concerned, people are pretty much the same in Queens as they are in the Bronx – loyal, knowledgeable, brash…just the way I like it. I’m having a great time with the Mets.

Me: I remember your first press conference when the Mets introduced you as their new manager, and Joe Torre was in the audience and he wouldn’t stop bothering you about the sub you had sitting on the podium. That was a little weird, don’t’ you think?

Willie: Are you serious? That was a commercial that Joe and I did for Subway.

Me: Oh. Ummm, I knew that. Actually, is that a Subway sub in front of you right now? Wow – that looks delicious. Is there a lot of meat on it?

Willie: Yeah, there’s a lot of meat!

Me: Okay, geez! You don’t have to yell. I brought my own lunch. Anyway, who has been the biggest surprise of the season for your team?

Willie: That’s a tough question. I mean – David Wright is so young, and has been so good, but I think people expected that from him. And everyone knew that if Cliff Floyd could just stay healthy, he’d put up solid numbers, which he has. Geez…I’d probably have to say Pedro (Martinez). A lot of people going into the season were worried about his stamina, how he’d handle New York after being in Boston for so long, and things like that. But since he’s come over here, he’s been our ace. He’s given this team a swagger and an identity, and helped us win ballgames. He’s been more than we could have hoped for.

Me: Be honest with me here, Willie. When Pedro shoved Don Zimmer to the ground a few years ago, you wanted to punch him in the face, didn’t you? I mean, you HAD to have wanted to, right?

Willie: Listen – that whole incident was a heat-of-the-moment thing, and it’s in the past. I have no ill will or animosity towards Pedro as a result. He’s a Met now, and we’re looking towards the future.

Me: I’ll take that as a “yes.” The other big name the Mets acquired for 2005 was Carlos Beltran, who has been a disappointment. What’s HIS problem?

Willie: Carlos is an elite player in this league, and his struggles have been a result of several things. For starters, there’s always a rough period involved when someone comes to play in New York, and I don’t care whether that’s with the Yankees, Mets or whoever. Also, Carlos started off the season slightly injured, which didn’t help matters. And when he collided with Mike Cameron a few weeks ago…I mean, that was just plain scary. I have all the confidence in the world that Carlos will exceed expectations. He’s already starting to show signs.

Me: Speaking of showing signs, remember that time when you and Joe Torre went out to lunch, and he was giving you signs, and you came back with his sub, but it wasn’t toasted? Did you miss a sign there, cause he was pretty upset!

Willie: That was also a commercial that Joe and I did for Subway. You don’t get out much, do you?

Me: Not really, but I’LL ask the questions here, okay? Have you ever had the opportunity to meet Jared while doing all of these Subway commercials? I heard he’s much taller in person.

Willie: No. Listen – can we get back to baseball here?

Me: Yeah, sure. Uhhh, where the heck are my notes? Okay…here they are. Your bullpen stinks. Talk about that.

Willie: Well, first of all, I wouldn’t say they stink. We’ve had our problems for sure, but a lot of teams in the league have bullpen issues. The thing is, going into the season everyone said our bullpen was going to be our Achilles heel, but they’ve done well enough to keep us in this race. Braden Looper may get himself into trouble sometimes, but more often than not, he gets out of it to close out games. Roberto Hernandez has been a pleasant surprise, and even I have to admit – I’ve probably overused him at various points during the year. And Aaron Heilman has made a smooth transition from starter to bullpen, which has helped us out immensely.

Me: While we’re on the subject of pitching, let me ask you – Pitching coach Rick Peterson is the only coach remaining from the ill-fated “Art Howe Experiment.” How come nobody has addressed his curly, afro-like mullet? I mean, that hairdo went out of style in like, 1973.

Willie: Geez. Why did you have to go there? I can’t speak for everyone, but I try not to pay attention to the hairstyles of other men. I have other things to worry about, like scoring runs. And Rick is one of the best pitching coaches in all of baseball. He could have a rooster under his hat for all I care, as long as he keeps doing what’s he doing.

Me: Fair enough. Listen Willie, I’d really like to thank you for sitting down with me today. Like I said, I’ve been a big fan of yours since I was a kid, and the fact that YOU are the manager of the New York Mets has forced me to hate them just a little less. Kind of. Anyway, I wish you the best of luck. In fact, I hope you guys make the playoffs. But not if the Yankees don’t, because that will be embarrassing.

Willie: Uhhh, thanks…I think.

Me: Hey Willie, before you go, can I just ask one last question?

Willie: Sure Mike, what is it?

Me: Are you going to finish that?

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